Monday Morning Message 6.1.20 Charge to our 2020 Graduates: Help Heal our Nation

Posted 2020-06-01 11:58am

“It is amazing to think that when we met 3 years ago you were only starting this journey…..While the current health crisis prevents us from being together physically on this momentous occasion, I have to confess to enjoying the intimacy of it just being you and me, in my home, where very few enter, for a short chat…..

Like you, I am an alum of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  We are now cut from the same cloth. When we were last together, you were aspirants. Now you are veterans of Law School, Covid-19 and, among other things, New Normals….No matter how legitimate your fears or concerns may be, remember, your legal degree--alone--arms you to withstand even a global pandemic.

And, as importantly, it bestows a great responsibility on  each of you to take care of yourselves and those around you.  In trying times, people depend on lawyers to be zealous advocates and troubleshooters….This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Take the time to reflect on how far you have come; and to show gratitude to those who’ve helped you along the way. Remember the words of Osip Mandelstrom, ‘You are the flower and the garden too’.” 

-Judge Benita Pearson ‘95, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, 2020 Virtual Commencement Speaker, Member, CSU C|M|LAW Hall of Fame

This past Saturday Cleveland State University and CSU Cleveland-Marshall College of Law had our first-ever virtual commencement.

After remarks from CSU President Harlan Sands, Provost Jianping Zhu, CSU Board Chair David Gunning ‘94, and a number of special guests including Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Mayor Frank Jackson ‘83, we moved to a separate virtual ceremony for our law school community.

See CSU and CSU Cleveland-Marshall 2020 Virtual Commencement (note: the law school ceremony begins at 24:00)

After the ceremony, we had a private informal “Zoom Room” (see screen shot below) with the law school community. CSU President Sands joined us at the start. We began with a special surprise video for our graduates featuring Professor Angelin Chang, a Grammy Award winner, and 2L student, Ashley Nemeh, an accomplished singer/songwriter. Watch and enjoy this special music video here:

CSU C|M|LAW Musical Tribute to our 2020 Graduates!

We have 109 graduates who came to us from over 40 colleges and universities. 95 graduated with a JD degree, 5 with a joint degree, and 9 with a Masters of Legal Studies degree. 48  graduated with honors- 12 as Summa Cum Laude, 16 as Magna Cum Laude, and 20 as Cum Laude. Alexandria Gardella ’20 is Valedictorian.

Our Commencement speaker, Judge Benita Pearson’95, shared some warm, inspiring words, some of which are excerpted above. The 2020 Class chose Judge Pearson as their Commencement Speaker because of her great talk three years ago during the Class of 2020 Orientation.

We also heard from Matt Wagner ’20, the Student Bar Association President, and Anthony Alto’20, the 2020 Dean’s Learn Law, Live Justice Award winner, and many members of our faculty and staff shared their individual congratulations.

Matt Wagner said, “In some ways the more adversity required in a journey, the more fulfilling it is to complete. … Personal struggles and setbacks have required many of us to work in less than ideal circumstances. And….in the final sprint of the marathon of law school, we had to adjust our learning styles in favor of online learning due to COVID-19. Through all the adversity, we have arrived to this day. And what a time to arrive. With all the uncertainty of today, the need for good lawyers to guide people through these times has never been greater.”

Anthony Alto told a story of his work in our Community Advocacy Clinic helping a young man who sought an expungement of his criminal record. Anthony met with him and as the young man recounted his criminal history, Anthony realized that they grew up in the same neighborhood and had some mutual friends. “Then it hit me,” Anthony said. “He was me if I had made different decisions.” Anthony noted, “My hope is that as we go out and practice, we realize that our clients are not just a source of income or random people. They are us who made different decisions in their lives….our clients are not all that different from us. Remember that your client could have been you.”

This 2020 Commencement was already historic and memorable because of the backdrop of the global pandemic, but it was made even more so in the aftermath of George Floyd’s horrific death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, while three other officers watched Floyd plea for his life and did nothing to intervene.

I recently completed my four years of service as a charter member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission, and I know that while we have made progress, we have a long way to go to create a sense of trust between police and the communities they serve, particularly the African-American community. The rage over the killing of George Floyd is well justified, as are the peaceful protests by many. The senseless, counterproductive looting and destruction by some is not; the unacceptable violence overshadows and hurts a just and urgent cause.

We are heartbroken, outraged, and unsettled by the events of the past few days. I hope and trust that it will make our 2020 graduates even more determined to pursue our mission of “living justice.” We charge them to use their legal education and law degree to advocate for justice everywhere, to fight against injustice anywhere, and to help heal our nation.

The CSU C|M|LAW Commencement Zoom Room (credit: Professor Brian Glassman)

Monday Moment: Spring 2020 CSU Commencement Program Book

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

If you missed CSU President Harlan Sands’ virtual Town Hall on Wednesday, May 20, you can see it here.

Have a great day. Have a great week.

For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages

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My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our law school or our university.

My best,


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